Setting out again & again

by susan on September 18, 2018

These are the “words for the journey” that were shared during The Well’s Sunday gathering on 9.16.18. They are based on Genesis 12:1-9 and are part of our series, Disarming the Bible & recapturing the ancient, messy, complex, inspired, still-speaking story of Scripture. Throughout this series, we are exploring various ways to engage Scripture. Last Sunday, we engaged with our questions. This week, we were challenged to dig deeper & to move beyond the words on the page.

Sometimes the message is captured best in song, like the one we sang together:

Some heard the promise — God’s hand would bless them!
Some fled from hunger, famine and pain.
Some left a place where others oppressed them;
All [at least the people named earlier in the song] trusted God and started again.

These are the stories that make up the Story. There are countless journeys described in Scripture.

Some journeys were made by choice, others out of necessity. Either way, again and again, people left something or somewhere familiar & stepped into an uncertain future.

Why do you think that is?
Why are these the stories that fill the pages of the Bible?
What is there for us to learn from all this coming & going?

I don’t know about you, but my life has certainly been a journey. In fact, I would venture to say all of us are on one right now. Some are physical; others spiritual or even metaphorical. Perhaps the reason so many journey stories are included in the Bible is that this is what being human looks like. It means to set out again & again.

Some journeys though, are more painful than others. Like the journey of self-discovery or the journey of waking up to & healing an addiction or the journey through financial devastation or the faith shift journey or the journey of leaving home or of leaving one homeland to move to another.

Life is a journey, so of course, there are many, many journeys described in Scripture, but maybe there is another reason for all this movement.

Today’s story describes Abraham’s invitation to a journey, but not just Abraham. Sarah may have been named among his property, but she is an equally significant although too often undervalued part of the story.

Digging deeper, we find this is not the first mention of Abraham & Sarah. In Genesis 11, they are named in the lineage of Noah’s son Shem (who had a son named Terah who moved his family, including his son Abram & his wife Sarai to a new land). See, Abraham & Sarah already know what its like to move from one land to another. They’ve done it before.

Their genealogy also tells us something upsetting about this family: Sarah is unable to have children.

Her introduction into Scripture is the first mention of barrenness in the Bible. Not exactly how you’d wanna be noted, especially in a culture where the ability to have children was critical for a woman. She’s no doubt a source of shame for her family & I imagine she also faced a fair amount of struggle with self-esteem.

It’s in this season of struggling with barrenness that God tells them to move. Now, that feels like really bad timing to me. Personally, I’d prefer waiting until things are coming together & I feel like I’ve got my ducks in a nice, near row. But that’s not this God’s way.

God, we are learning, doesn’t want us to get too settled in our ways & seemingly out of nowhere says “let’s go. I’ve got something new in mind.” That could be the other, even more important reason for all these coming & going stories.

This God is on the move & we get moved, too.

This move God has in mind first involves Abraham & Sarah leaving something behind.

Check out this portrait (to the left): Abraham Leaves Haran by Francesco Bassano the Younger, 1560-1592.

What strikes you about it?

The way I see it, Sarah & Abraham’s departure is depicted as untidy & chaotic & abrupt. It’s not just a move, it’s an uprooting:

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”

There is no way to quantify what Abraham & Sarah were being asked to leave behind. In ancient Israel, kinship was everything. Moving from broadest to most intimate, you had your country & then your tribe & then your clan & then your father’s house. God covers all the bases. In fact, the writer seems to be chiseling away to get to the point that Abe & Sarah were not just moving to a new home – they were undergoing a radical reconfiguration that would alter everything. Even their names would change.

This can be so super exciting & it also makes me sick to my stomach.

I had an epiphany yesterday about my own spiritual journey.

My journey has been one of moving deeper & deeper into loving all the “wrong” people – people like criminals, like those in prison, like the meanest neighbor, like those considered the worst sinners. Let me tell you something: it’s not great for your reputation. It upsets people, especially religious people. It always has. It has caused me to lose some friends. And I don’t say that to give myself a pat on the back for losing-friends-for-Jesus, but rather to remind us that being moved out of our comfort zones or away from our “tribes” or popular opinion often does that, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t exactly where God is moving you.

Leaving is hard. Having our lives or our identities or way of life overturned can make us sick to our stomachs, but it’s in the discomfort & the unsettling that God does something important.

Namely, blessing.

Now, that blessing can be very personal. It can look like barrenness overturned. It can look like a promotion or a windfall of money or a new vocation or a marriage or a child or a lot of other wonderful things. It can look like what previously seemed impossible now becoming possible. It would take forever for Abraham & Sarah to bear a child. They would grow weary & impatient & do some pretty desperate things along the way, but eventually, they would have a son.

The blessing would be the overturning of their barrenness, but always, always this personal blessing would be for the sake of the world. That’s the intent of blessing. We like to count them, but really blessings are intended to be shared.  It’s never just about our comfort & our safety & our needs. The whole reason, in fact, that God wants to make Abraham & Sarah into a great nation, is to be a blessing.

And what does it mean to be a “great nation” anyway? In ancient Israel, it meant having control of the land. It meant having the most possessions. It meant having the most male children. It meant a lot of things, but once again here comes God redefining things.

A blessing is not something you have or hoard, it’s something you give away. It’s not about being the biggest or the best. Blessing is about being a source of love & light & hope & peace & blessing toward the rest of the world.

Look what we find when we dig a little deeper. God is on the move to bless the world through us & it will involve a lot of unsettling & shifting & even some sick stomachs at times, but God will be with us in the midst of our comings & goings. Even when like Abraham & Sarah & Jesus, we become the sojourner, the stranger, the outcast & the enemy, God will be with us.

Where is God moving you? And why haven’t you left yet?

Previous post:

Next post: